TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Tue, Jan. 21

City rate hike considered for water, sewer

COTTONWOOD -- It's looking like rates for water and wastewater use in the Cottonwood area are going up. But, there also seems to be some resistance by the public as well as some Cottonwood City Council members.

After a couple of delays, a signal was sounded Tuesday when the Council posted notice of its intent to raise rates. It is not yet a done deal, but the city has taken the first step to raise water and sewer fees.

The next step is to hold a public hearing, which will be March 2, according to the city schedule.

If the council approves, the higher rates will take effect April 2, 2010.

Council members Darold Smith and Terrence Pratt both questioned the timing of the increases when many people are already pinching their available pennies.

Citizen Bob Oliphant alleged that the enterprise funds has a wealth of reserves and has "gone on a spending spree with personnel" this year during the greatest recession since the 1930s.

He said that 30 percent of the population has used the food bank this year, a percentage that will be impacted by the rate increase.

Pratt said, "I can't recommend an increase this year. Perhaps later."

Former council member Bob Rothrock suggested that if the city was to raise its water rates, it also create a new low-water usage category at the current rate for homes that use no more than 5,000 gallons

Rothrock suggested the city should look at its priorities by subsidizing the water and wastewater rates instead of the new Recreation Center.

The finance department has warned that bond holders, acting as trustees, would demand that the city increase its rates to comply with a ratio to protect its investment. Darold Smith told the council that he wants to see documentation on that.

In a related matter Tuesday, the council voted to approve a change in wording of Ordinance 588, which amends a definition of "user charge" in the city sewer policy.

The original definition stated: "a charge levied on users of treatment works for the cost of operation and maintenance of such works. User charges do not include construction costs."

The amended definition would state that a User charge: "means a charge levied on users of treatment works for the cost of operation, maintenance, capital construction, major repairs, replacement and enhancement to existing facilities and the needs of such works."

Darold Smith objected that the change is an "end run around sewer fees to pay for new construction." He says the city policy is that new development should pay for new construction, not existing users. He says that is the responsibility of the impact fee on new construction.

Oliphant said, "It is a very poor definition. It should be positively stated if there are exclusions."

Smith especially objected to the belief that less than 5,000 customers would have to shoulder the costs of building the Bella Montana pump station and a new treatment facility at Riverfront Park.

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